Alan Baker's new short collection from KFS is made
up of two sections - 'Week to View', basically a seven day diary entry
with a difference, and 'Thirteen Spells Against Global Warming', which
has a similar feel and is packed with interesting diversions. Both
sections contain, I think, snippets of 'found language', with a more
straightforward 'documentary' style, embracing the skilful use of teasing
non-sequiturs and unexpected juxtapositions. The fact that these are
presented in a pretty seamless manner (very skilful, these poems) and
also maintain a degree of lyric intensity are further evidence of Baker's
ability to break with 'genre expectation'. These excellent poems combine
tradition with innovation and are consistently good to read.
'Week to View' (for Rupert Loydell),
starts with a mediation/meditation on early rising (probably prefacing
the journey to work) - 'Cat mewing around legs, / kettle building up
to boil.' We are told that the sun is '92.5 million miles away' before
being given more immediate references to the symmetry of a wall decoration
and a commentary on the '100% recycled paper fibres' which, presumably
are being used to write the diary entry. The tone is optimistic, upbeat,
embracing routine, possibly as a tactic to deal with the coming rigours
of the day but this is a hunch on my part, lightly implied perhaps, by
the text itself. Then we get a completely surprising line followed by
a commentary on the American film industry (reality versus 'high-glamour
reality' perhaps?), a newspaper guide to 'the Sun' which can be interpreted
two ways and seems like a very clever piece of cut-up 'filching' to me,
followed by a self-reference to 'the 'Diary' and a non-sequitur mentioning
the word 'labyrinth', leading to a very neat ending:
Heart disease wears
a skirt too.
Risk factors include
to the siren call
and making provocative
to the Sun talks
endings and happenings
in a remote future.
of the world's
is covered by sea.
so what? The labyrinth
has many entrances,
may be one of them.
' - Monday - Week to View')
This has the appearance of a mind talking to itself and allowing thoughts
to 'go where they will' yet the diary aspect of its form suggests the
artificial construct of the piece in a very up-front manner, the suggestion
of the gap between representation and 'reality', however we might want
to designate the latter. I'm reminded to a degree here, of Paul Violi's
documenting of TV programmes in 'Breakers' though there is a more overt
humorous gambit in this aspect of Violi's work. Baker's poems are filled
with interest, with surprise, with an engrossing encapsulation of observed
moments - 'Tea in the garden / watching a spider / demonstrating pure
/ mindfulness, awareness /
of self, leading to / obliteration of self (one might / say). .
Which, again, has a lightness of touch (humour) even where suggesting
something deeper, or, dare I say it, profound.
to understand their
It's getting late,
and having fun
was never on the
unless it's dream-fun.
Silence is the
is freedom. I myself
am a hypothetical
'I've always been
so much older than
even when I was
younger', she said.
(from - 'Sunday
-Week to View')
There's a suggestion of political commentary here, a possible reference
to a Bob Dylan lyric, a mingling of thoughts and feelings encapsulated
in language which offers different registers yet which manages to keep
the onflow of 'inner talk' (as Beckett might have put it) bright and
'Thirteen Spells Against Global Warming' names a fictional (?) weather
forecaster called 'Sarah Blizzard' (from '1'), questions the relationship
between dreams and science ('8') and mixes the language of meteorology
with that of textual analysis:
Note that the sky
isn't always on
it's abstract and
has birds and moods,
is full of rain & prone
of motive, & always
'TSAGW - no 10')
Baker knows something of science but he's not overwhelmed by it and his
mixed discourse, embracing aspects of recycled, refreshed clichˇ is mood
enhancing and optimistic, not absurdly so but on a day-to-day basis where
a common spell can be integrated into the language of science and technology.
Cast the bones
on the ground to
whether to walk
or give the kids
a lift to school.
'TSAGW - no 10')
I'm immediately back in the world of Ray Harryhausen and Jason's 'Argonauts',
another magic moment conjured by Baker's modern necromancy. I'm sure
other readers will pick up or 'project' other references, all part of
the fun of reading these serious yet entertaining poems. Yes, these poems
are entirely undidactic - you can and should create your own narrative
from the suggestions and maps of these texts. My favourite poem in 'TSAGW'
is the final piece which includes 'the long wait for the future / . but
when it arrives, / oh boy! ,' and a wonderful ending which reminds me
very much of the eternally optimistic yet stubbornly resisting poetry
of John James:
but don't forget
in the next room
listening to music
in A flat minor
and wondering whether
it would be wise
to drink some milk.
'TSAGW - 13')
Culture is everywhere and they can't take it away from you. Don't let
them. This is wonderful, wonderful poetry.
I've not read Anne Carson before and was barely aware
of her work which is probably remiss of me as she seems to be a big
name in Canada and has won international recognition for her poetry.
The back cover blurbs register the names of the great and the good
and my initial gisting of this work made me curious if a little wary,
wanting to know more. This is a picaresque poetry adventure, Proustian
in its memory fuelled, experimental mode, containing some key characters,
set in geographically disparate settings, probably across time, across
genre and filled with wordplay and wonderful writing. Red Doc > is
prefaced by a previous, related work, Autobiography of Red, which I've obviously not read, yet this hasn't hampered my enjoyment of this book,
though in terms of 'narrative' - insofar as one exists or is intended
to exist - then I'm still at sea, which turns out not to be a bad place
A CERTAIN CLICK of
certain doors in certain
corridors. The Laundry
Room door. Certain
midnights. It is directly
underneath the room
where he sleeps
Your magic contracts
body putting forth no frill
under another's gaze. Ida
wears the frill now. He
wonders how Ida finds
Sad as a lover. .
Formally this collection reminds me of David Peace's fiction, where a
use of repetition within prose blocks and 'newspaper columns', justified
texts and multiple viewpoints or 'voices' create an overwhelming sense
of everything going on everywhere at once. You are forced to go with
the flow, turning the page to be presented with one of a variety of layouts,
where 'traditional' poetic technique in terms of rhyme, rhythm and repetition
are juxtaposed with a less regular but more prominent flow-of-consciousness
speed writing which is filled with wordplay and the apparent invention
of its own forwards momentum. Carson's work is erudite, wide-ranging,
shifting in its parameters and time-scales, very moving in parts and
a real roller-coaster of a read. How much better her work is (if at all)
than a host of lesser-known experimental poets working here and abroad
is a moot question but I'm glad that I came across this book, quite by
chance, as it happens, and I'm sure I'm going to dip into her poetry
The clue may lie in the title of Ian Seed's most recent
collection as there is a dreamlike quality to his writing which suggests
the absurd logic of classic surrealism which is both funny and at times
menacing. I've not always picked up the menace in his work but it's
certainly at home in these excellent prose poems, both in terms of
a vague, implied sense of placelessness (even where place is foregrounded
by naming) and a disorienting feel of existential 'lostness' aided
and abetted by a lingering expectation of possible violence. The vagueness
implied in these qualifying adjectives (mine, not his) is all part
of the background, clearly European and cosmopolitan but with threat
always potentially present in the alleyway and in the room.
I'm reminded at times of an Ivor Cutler story where the narrative is
evident but goes nowhere or turns back on itself, or one of those Jake
Thackray songs where erotic possibilities are often frustrated. There
is humour in both these 'outcomes' but it usually comes at a cost. There
are also some wonderful puzzling 'non-sequiturs' which have you re-reading
the piece immediately just to check that you've 'got it'. Often you realise
that you haven't and that Seed's knotted narratives defy such a possibility
anyway but his work is so endlessly enchanting and entertaining that
time passes and 'meaning' ceases to matter. Take this piece on page 41
which I'll quote in full.
There was a mottled snake which made its home under
kitchen sink. If
it was venomous, I would have to kill it. Other-
wise, we would
keep it as a pet.
There was a woman
upstairs with smoothest skin who lay naked
in her bed at nights,
but I wasn't sure it was me
she was waiting
Around the corner was a small store no one went to anymore. I
felt I must go there soon. I would buy a bottle of wine and chat
to the Indian owner
the way I used to. But first I had to decide
upon the snake
and the woman.
There's a lot of the 'anxiety dream' in these pieces, and references
to heavyweight European philosophers such as Nietzsche, Sartre and Heidegger
present both a humorous, deconstructive aspect while also implying a
the 'serious stuff' which underlines, perhaps, the element of threat
which so imbues these elusive, ungraspable yet intriguing and strangely
prose poems. Masterly and addictive.
series of attributed quotations, across a wide range of time and
geographical space, some clearly bunched together via subject - for
example, pieces on the sea, on death, on dance and on suicide. This
isn't quite as grim as I'm probably making it sound. I suppose the
major modern work of Literature which used this process would be
Walter Benjamin's Arcades Project, a vast scholarly tome which built a whole out of
fragments of writing by others, as a way of commenting on the issues
of modernity. But this is now a long, long time ago!
Chrissy Williams' book is much shorter, arguably even more diverse in
its source works (though the media has changed, exponentially since Benjamin's
time - what the great commentator on 'the function of art in the age
of mechanical reproduction' would have made of modern media saturation
and diversity is of course unknowable) though with a lightness of touch
which seems to transcend its sometimes tragic materials. She takes quotations
from people as varied as Nostradamus, Groucho Marx, David Attenborough,
Fred Astaire, Arthur Schopenhauer, Stephen King, Eric Morecambe, Martha
Grahame, Walt Whitman, Edwin Morgan, Elizabeth von Arnim, Charles M.
Schulz, H.P. Lovecraft, Neville Chamberlain, John Berger, Carl Sagan
and Franz Kafka. There are references from comics, from The Simpsons,
from Facebook, from a closing down sale advertisement from a fishing
tackle business and elsewhere. Clearly an interest in popular culture
and the advent of the internet is combined here with a more 'high-art'
tendency though the barriers appear to have totally broken down. Leaving
aside the aforementioned 'thematically-based texts' there are some interesting
juxtapositions at play, and juxtaposition - as well as choice - is clearly
an important tool when working with existing materials. Take the following
by way of example:
'I have to solve
this Labyrinth but there aren't any turns
or any openings
or anything, it just goes on and on!'
'The intertextual in which every text is held, it
itself being the
another text, is not to be confused with some
origin of the text:
to try to find the 'sources', the 'influences'
of a work, is to
fall in with the myth of filiation; the citations
which go to make
up a text are anonymous, untraceable, and yet
read: they are quotations without inverted commas.'
- Music - Text
'I do not think
it means what you think it means.'
Montoya, The Princess Bride
out of it!'
Epping Fishing Tackle ½ Price Closing Down Sale -
i may go a little
crazy if the stuff is worth it, i'm looking at some new rods!'
The comment by Barthes hints perhaps at Benjamin's notion that all acts
of writing are indeed a form of translation, whether acknowledged as
such or not
and further hints at the mysteries of language and origins which are
still being argued over by linguists and philosophers today. The quotation
from Labyrinth underlines this suggestion and the short extract
from The Princess Bride furthers the puzzlement by bringing in 'meaning'
and the problems of interpretation. 'Snap out of it' (Peanuts) brings us down to earth with its 'snappy' humour
and probably also suggests the perils of over-intellectualising the problem,
while the fishing tackle advert (which had me in stitches, I have to
say) also hints at the ever present question of desire and the impossibility
of ever quenching it. So, wit and humour as well as serious stuff is
implied here. Perhaps, a la Peter Finch (and others) the use of 'existing
language' as a means of dealing with information overload is a viable
option though using acknowledged quotation as opposed to adapting and/or
assimilating 'found texts' is a somewhat different ballgame, I think.
Giles Goodland wrote interestingly about this in an edition of Tears
in the Fence a few years back and I'll have to re-read his piece.
His collection, A Spy in the House of Years (Leviathan,
2001) is a classic of this kind, attempting to 'read' the 20th century
via a page of varied quotation from each year. Stimulating stuff.